Friday, June 2, 2023

Reconsidering corporal punishment

Debates about crime and punishment today typically concern disagreements about the death penalty, or about the length, and in some cases the appropriateness, of prison sentences.  Largely neglected is the topic of corporal punishment – the infliction of bodily pain as a penalty for an offense.  No doubt many will regard the very idea as a relic of a less enlightened age.  But that is not a view shared universally.  And the practice made headlines in the West within living memory, when, in 1994, the American teenager Michael Fay was caned in Singapore for vandalism (specifically, for stealing road signs and damaging a number of cars).

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Hell and conditional prophecy

In a recent talk at the Angelicum (which can be viewed at YouTube), Fr. Simon Gaine addresses the question of whether scripture teaches that some will in fact be damned.  He notes that certain prophecies of Christ might seem to imply this, but suggests that they may plausibly be read as conditional prophecies rather than descriptions of what will in fact happen.  Let’s take a look at his argument.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Capital punishment and the law of nations

What is the nature of Pope Francis’s 2018 change to the Catechism’s teaching on capital punishment?  Does it amount to a reversal of traditional teaching?  A development of doctrine that is consistent with that teaching?  A prudential judgment?  And if the latter, is assent to the new formulation binding on the faithful?  Barrett Turner offers an important analysis in his Nova et Vetera article “Pope Francis and the Death Penalty: A Conditional Advance of Justice in the Law of Nations.”  Let’s take a look.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Substance, teleology, and intentionality

There is an illuminating parallel between the traditional Aristotelian distinction between substances, artifacts, and aggregates, and the distinction John Searle draws between intrinsic intentionality, derived intentionality, and as-if intentionality.  This might seem odd given that the Aristotelian distinction is concerned with very general questions about the metaphysics of physical objects, whereas Searle is concerned with a very specific topic in the philosophy of mind.  But on closer inspection the parallel is quite natural and obvious, and the connecting link is the notion of teleology.  Let’s first consider each distinction, and then we’ll be in a position to see the parallels.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

A Festschrift for Gyula Klima

My essay “Truth as a Transcendental” appears in the Festschrift Metaphysics Through Semantics: The Philosophical Recovery of the Medieval Mind: Essays in Honor of Gyula Klima, edited by Joshua P. Hochschild, Turner C. Nevitt, Adam Wood, and Gábor Borbély.  Gyula’s work has contributed mightily to the revival of interest in medieval and Scholastic philosophy, and this honor is most deserved and welcome!  You can check out the table of contents at Josh Hochschild’s Twitter feed or at the publisher’s website. 

Saturday, April 29, 2023

The Catechism and Capital Punishment: A Reply to Annett

Some years back, in my article “Three questions for Catholic opponents of capital punishment,” I argued that Pope Francis’s statements on the death penalty cannot plausibly be read in a way that would make assent to them binding on Catholics.  This week, in an article at Where Peter Is, Tony Annett offers a reply.  Let’s take a look.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Hazony and Gottfried on wokeism and Marxism

Right-wingers often characterize wokeism as a kind of Marxism, and left-wingers routinely dismiss the characterization as a cheap smear that reflects ignorance of Marxist theory.  Who is right?  In his book Conservatism: A Rediscovery, Yoram Hazony argues that there is indeed a significant link between wokeism and Marxism.  Paul Gottfried responds at Chronicles, arguing that the similarities between the two have been overstated.  Let’s take a look at their arguments.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

What is a Law of Nature?

Some time back I gave a lecture at Fermilab on the topic “What is a Law of Nature?”  I’ve posted the text of the lecture at my main website.  You can watch the video of the lecture either at the Fermilab website or at YouTube.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

All One in Christ on EWTN Live

Recently I recorded an interview about my book All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory for the television program EWTN Live with Fr. Mitch Pacwa.  The show airs today – at 5 pm Pacific time, again at 10:30 pm, and then tomorrow morning (Thursday) at 7 am.  The recording will be available for viewing later at the show’s website and at YouTube.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Talking philosophy and natural theology

Recently, on the Thomistic Institute’s Off-Campus Conversations program, Fr. Gregory Pine and I had a discussion about Aquinas’s Five Ways, their metaphysical presuppositions, and the moral and spiritual preconditions of doing philosophy well.  You can watch it at YouTube or listen to it at Soundcloud.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Strawson on free will and interpersonal relationships

In his classic paper “Freedom and Resentment,” P. F. Strawson addresses the question of what difference the widespread acceptance of determinism would make to our everyday ways of dealing with each other.  He judges that our commonsense conception of human behavior is too deeply rooted in our nature to be dislodged even in such a scenario.  As in Strawson’s other work, he urges attention to details of ordinary experience that are ineliminable but often overlooked by revisionist systems of metaphysics.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

All One in Christ on Bookmark Brief

Recently I recorded interviews about my book All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory for the television programs EWTN Live and EWTN Bookmark.  They will be aired in the coming weeks, but a preview of the Bookmark interview has already appeared on Bookmark Brief with Doug Keck.  You can view it here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

McCaig and Reilly on All One in Christ

At Twitter, Bishop Scott McCaig kindly recommends my book All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory.  He writes:

A devastating critique of CRT and a clear Catholic response to the evils of racism.  A real eye-opener!  The incompatibility of CRT with the Faith, its numerous logical errors, and it’s deeper entrenching of racism into societal fabric could not be clearer.  Please read.

In the Winter issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Robert R. Reilly kindly reviews the book.  From the review:

Feser’s [book] is an important rejoinder, delivered in an accessible way for a wide audience, not just specialists and Catholics…

The philosophy of capital punishment

My essay “The Justice of Capital Punishment” appears in The Palgrave Handbook on the Philosophy of Punishment, edited by Matthew C. Altman.  You can view the anthology’s table of contents and other information about it at the publisher’s website

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Putnam on reason, reductionism, and relativism

Naturalism holds that what is real is what can be accounted for in terms acceptable to science.  More or less the orthodoxy in contemporary intellectual life, naturalism is a purportedly less crude descendent of what was traditionally known as materialism.  For the materialist, matter alone is real, so that anything that is both real and seems to be different from matter (mind, for example) must somehow really be material after all.  In modern times, matter is often conceived of on the model of particles in motion, so that “materialism” connotes the idea that everything real is really nothing but particles in motion. 

Saturday, March 18, 2023

How to define “wokeness”

A common talking point among the woke is the claim that “woke” is just a term of abuse that has no clear meaning.  Whether many of them really believe this or are just obfuscating is not clear, but in any event it isn’t true.  I would suggest that what critics of wokeness have in mind is pretty obviously captured in the following definition: Wokeness is a paranoid delusional hyper-egalitarian mindset that tends to see oppression and injustice where they do not exist or greatly to exaggerate them where they do exist.

Friday, March 10, 2023

This month at First Things

My review of Thomas Ward’s superb new book Ordered by Love: An Introduction to John Duns Scotus appears in the current issue of First Things.  I was recently interviewed by Mark Bauerlein for the First Things podcast about my book All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Naturalism versus Katz’s Platonism

Naturalism holds that there is nothing more to reality than the world of concrete entities causally related to one another within space and time.  Since this is the realm studied by the natural sciences (such as physics, chemistry, and biology), naturalism can also be characterized as the view that the subject matter of natural science is all that there is.  Naturalism thus denies the existence of God, of angelic intellects, of immaterial souls (whether conceived of along the lines of Descartes’ res cogitans or in some other way), and of Platonic Forms and other abstract objects. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Open thread combox

Here’s the latest open thread, by popular demand.  Actually, it was one guy, but I’ll bet there at least twice as many as that who are interested.  From quantum logic to Quantumania, MacArthur at Inchon to Thomas Pynchon, Muay Thai to Jamiroquai, everything’s on topic.  Just keep it civil and classy.  Earlier open threads archived here.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Catholicism, CRT, and the spirit of the age

Recently I was interviewed by the Catholic Herald’s Katherine Bennett about Critical Race Theory and the need for Catholics not to let themselves be intimidated by the progressive spirit of the age.  You can watch the interview at YouTube.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Pope Francis contra life imprisonment

The white supremacist Buffalo shooter who murdered ten people has been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  According to scripture, natural law theory, and traditional Catholic moral theology alike, he is worthy of death.  It follows that this lesser penalty can hardly be unjust.  However, it seems that Pope Francis would disapprove of it.  For he has on many occasions condemned this sort of punishment as on a par with the death penalty, which he has also famously condemned.  I discussed this neglected but problematic aspect of the pope’s teaching in a Catholic World Report article originally published in 2019, and he has since then made further statements along the same lines.  Current events make the topic worth revisiting.

Friday, February 10, 2023

The Faith Once for All Delivered

Coming soon, the important new anthology The Faith Once for All Delivered: Doctrinal Authority in Catholic Theology, edited by Fr. Kevin Flannery.  Contributors include Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke (Foreword and Introduction), C. C. Pecknold, Christopher J. Malloy, Thomas Heinrich Stark, Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., John M. Rist, Edward Feser, Eduardo Echeverria, Kevin L. Flannery, SJ, Robert Dodaro, OSA, John Finnis, Guy Mansini, OSB, and Robert Cardinal Sarah (Afterword).  My essay for the volume is on the topic “Magisterium: The Teaching Authority of the Church.”

Talking about All One in Christ

The latest on my book All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory:  Recently I was interviewed for the EDIFY Podcast on the topic “The Truth about Critical Race Theory.”  You can listen to the interview here.  I was also interviewed about the book by Deal Hudson for the Church and Culture radio show.  You can listen to the episode here.  Other reviews of and interviews about All One in Christ can be found herehereherehere, and here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

An anonymous saint?

When we think of saints, we often associate them with mighty spiritual feats – dramatic martyrdoms, the production of works of great theological learning or spiritual insight, the founding of religious orders or vast charitable enterprises, and so on.  But saintliness, like the still small voice heard by Elijah, can manifest itself in subtler ways.  An illustration is provided by the life of Fr. Ed Dowling, SJ, the subject of Dawn Eden Goldstein’s fine new book Father Ed: The Story of Bill W.’s Spiritual Sponsor

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Avicenna on non-contradiction

We’ve been talking about the law of non-contradiction (LNC), which says that the statements p and not-p cannot both be true.  (In symbolic notation: ~ (p • ~p) )  We briefly noted Aristotle’s view that skepticism about LNC cannot be made a coherent position.  Let’s now consider a famous remark on the subject by the Islamic philosopher Avicenna or Ibn Sina (c. 970-1037).  In The Metaphysics of the Healing, he says of such a skeptic:

As for the obstinate, he must be plunged into fire, since fire and non-fire are identical.  Let him be beaten, since suffering and not suffering are the same.  Let him be deprived of food and drink, since eating and drinking are identical to abstaining. (Quoted in the SEP article “Contradiction”)

Friday, January 27, 2023

Quantum mechanics and the laws of thought

It isn’t news that much pop philosophy nonsense is peddled in the name of quantum mechanics.  Perhaps the best-known example is the claim that quantum mechanics refutes one or more of the traditional “laws of thought.”  The arguments are fallacious, but stubbornly persistent. 

The laws of thought are three:

1. The law of non-contradiction (LNC), which states that the statements p and not-p cannot both be true.  In symbolic notation: ~ (p • ~p)

2. The law of identity, which says that everything is identical with itself.  In symbolic notation, a = a

3. The law of excluded middle (LEM), which states that either p or not-p is true.  In symbolic notation: p V ~p

Friday, January 20, 2023

Cartwright on theory and experiment in science

Nancy Cartwright’s A Philosopher Looks at Science is a new treatment of some of the longstanding themes of her work.  It is written in her characteristically agreeable style and full of insights.  The book is devoted to criticizing three widespread but erroneous assumptions about science: that science is essentially just theory plus experiment; that in some sense everything science tells us is reducible to physics; and that science reveals that everything that happens, including human action, is determined by the laws of physics.  In this post I’ll discuss what she says about the first of these claims, which is the subject of the first and longest chapter in the book.  I may devote a later post to the other claims.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Benedict XVI, Cardinal Pell, and criticism of Pope Francis

In the wake of the deaths of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal George Pell, it has emerged that each of them raised serious criticisms of aspects of Pope Francis’s teaching and governance of the Church.  How might the pope respond to these criticisms?  As I have explained elsewhere, the Church explicitly teaches that even popes can under certain circumstances respectfully be criticized by the faithful.  Moreover, Pope Francis himself has explicitly said on several occasions that he welcomes criticism.  It seems clear that the criticisms raised by Benedict and Pell are precisely the kind that the pope should take the most seriously, given the teaching of the Church and his own views about the value of criticism.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

More about All One in Christ

The latest on my book All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory: I was interviewed about the book by Carl Olson on the Ignatius Press Podcast.  I was interviewed by Cy Kellett on Catholic Answers Focus.  I was interviewed by Ken Huck on the Meet the Author radio program.  Reviewing the book at Catholic World Report, Gregory Sullivan writes: “Among its many virtues, All One in Christ is a work of genuine argumentation.  Meticulous and temperate in stating the case he is critiquing, Feser dismantles CRT with his characteristic rigor.”  The Spectator included the book on its list of the best books of 2022.  The book is available in German translation, and was reviewed favorably by Sebastian Ostritsch in Die Tagespost.  Other reviews of and interviews about All One in Christ can be found hereherehere, and here.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Sunday, January 1, 2023

The wages of gin

My review of Jane Peyton’s The Philosophy of Gin appears in the Christmas 2022 issue of The Lamp magazine.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

On the death of Pope Benedict XVI

I’m not sure when I first became aware of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was later to become Pope Benedict XVI.  During my high school years in the early 80s, I had only a vague awareness of the doctrinal controversies roiling the Church.  I then knew little more than that they had something to do with liberal theologians and their opposition to Pope John Paul II.  My first clear memory of Ratzinger himself is from the very end of that decade, when I had left the Church and was on my way to becoming an atheist.  I read a magazine article about him and his work as the pope’s chief doctrinal officer.  The impression it left me with was of a man of deep learning and gravitas.  For some reason, what stood out especially was a remark of his quoted in the article, to the effect that a sound theology “cannot… act as if the history of thought only seriously began with Kant.”  (I later learned that this came from a lecture of his since reprinted as the third chapter of God’s Word: Scripture – Tradition – Office.)

Friday, December 23, 2022

Why did the Incarnation occur precisely when it did?

Why did the second Person of the Trinity become man two thousand years ago – rather than at the beginning of the human race, or near the end of the world, or at some other point in history?  The Christmas season is an especially appropriate time to consider this question.  And as is so often the case, St. Thomas Aquinas provides guidance for reflection.  He addresses the issue in the last two Articles of Question 1 of the Third Part of the Summa Theologiae.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

When do popes teach infallibly?

It is well-known that the Catholic Church teaches that popes are infallible when they speak ex cathedra or exercise their extraordinary magisterium.  What that means is that if a pope formally presents some teaching in a manner intended to be definitive and absolutely binding, he is prevented by divine assistance from falling into error.  The ordinary magisterium of the Church, and the pope when exercising it, are also infallible when they simply reiterate some doctrine that has been consistently taught for centuries.  (Elsewhere, I’ve discussed the criteria for determining whether some such doctrine has been taught infallibly.)  Even when papal teaching on faith and morals is not presented in a definitive and absolutely binding way, assent is normally required of Catholics.  (The rare exceptions are something I’ve also addressed elsewhere.)

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Is God’s existence a “hypothesis”?

Over at Twitter I’ve caused some annoyance by objecting to the phrase “the God hypothesis.”  The context was a discussion of Stephen Meyer’s book Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe.  My view is that to present theism as a “hypothesis” that might be confirmed by scientific findings is at best irrelevant to actually establishing God’s existence and at worst harmful insofar as it insinuates serious misunderstandings of the nature of God and his relationship to the world.  Since Twitter is not a medium conducive to detailed and nuanced exposition, here is a post explaining at greater length what I mean.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Davies on classical theism and divine freedom

I’ve long regarded Brian Davies’ An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion as the best introduction to that field on the market.  A fourth edition appeared not too long ago, and I’ve been meaning to post something about it.  Like earlier editions, it is very clearly written and accessible, without in any way compromising philosophical depth.  Its greatest strength, though, is the attention it gives the classical theist tradition in general and Thomism in particular, while still covering all the ground the typical analytic philosophy of religion text would (and, indeed, bringing the classical tradition into conversation with this contemporary work).  The fourth edition adds some new material along these lines.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Augustine on divine punishment of the good alongside the wicked

Many today labor under the delusion that the reality of suffering is a difficulty for Christianity – as if Christian doctrine would lead us to expect little or no suffering, so that its adherents should be flummoxed by suffering’s prevalence.  As I have discussed in previous articles, this is the reverse of the truth.  The Catholic faith teaches that suffering is the inexorable consequence of original sin and past actual sin.  It is an essential part of the long and painful process of sanctification, of overcoming sinful habits of thought and action.  It is the inevitable concomitant of the persecution Christians must face for preaching the Gospel and condemning the world’s wickedness.  It is an inescapable punishment for sin, which we must embrace in a penitential spirit.  By way of suffering we pay both our own temporal debt and that of others for whom we might offer up our suffering.  By way of it we most closely unite ourselves to Christ’s Passion.  The extent and depth of human suffering thus confirms rather than disconfirms the claims of Christianity.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Update on All One in Christ

Recently I was interviewed by Steve and Becky Greene on The Catholic Conversation about my book All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory.  You can listen to the interview here.  Author Gavin Ashenden and teacher Katherine Bennett discuss the book at the Catholic Herald’s Merely Catholic podcast, judging it “an absolute must-read for all Catholic educators.”  Meanwhile, at the Acton Institute Powerblog, Sarah Negri kindly reviews the book.  From the review:

This book is perfectly subtitled in that it spends significant time evaluating both the church’s denunciation of racism and the incompatibility of Church teaching with CRT… Readers who seek a thorough overview of the church’s statements and position on racism will find it here, and Christians who have ever experienced confusion as to whether CRT obtains as a remedy for it will come away with the understanding that Christianity and critical race theory rest on entirely different first principles; indeed, they present irreconcilable worldviews

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part VII: The influence of Kant

Immanuel Kant was, of course, not an atheist.  So why devote an entry to him in this series, thereby lumping him in with the likes of Nietzsche, Sartre, Freud, Marx, Woody Allen, and Schopenhauer?  In part because Kant’s philosophy, I would suggest, inadvertently did more to bolster atheism than any other modern system, Hume’s included.  He was, as Nietzsche put it, a “catastrophic spider” (albeit not for the reasons Nietzsche supposed).  But also in part because, like the other thinkers in this series, Kant had a more subtle and interesting attitude about religion than contemporary critics of traditional theology like the New Atheists do.

Friday, November 4, 2022